Pittsburgh - Having heard enough from the rumor mill, New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton on Sunday took direct aim at reports and went about the business of slowing the process, if not grinding it to a halt.
Payton's relationship with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan assumed center stage nationally Sunday morning, with a report that "hate" best describes the feelings and that Ryan would be dismissed after the season, his second in New Orleans.
The Saints' defensive rankings have slipped this season. Last year, New Orleans was fourth in total defense, fourth in scoring defense, second in pass defense and ninth in third-down conversion percentage.
Entering Sunday's game against Pittsburgh, which the Saints won 35-32, New Orleans was last in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage (.479) and opponents are scoring 26.5 points per game, eighth most.
Despite that, Payton said his relationship with Ryan is on solid footing, and that "splash" reporting on Sundays is creating an animosity that doesn't exist.
"It's been outstanding," Payton said of his dealings with Ryan. "He and I get along. We're doing great.
"His toughness and his passion – he's there (working) till the crickets are gone. It's hard when you're not winning in this league, (but) I love what he's doing. Are there times where we have to look at things? Are there times where I get involved? Absolutely. I'm the head coach. But he's doing an outstanding job.
"You really find out a little bit about everyone when you start losing a few games and you go through some adversity, because it really hasn't happened around here in a while. Those are the things you appreciate as a head coach. When someone's got passion for teaching and the next challenge, those are the things you appreciate."
As for the sideline flare-ups between he and Ryan that often are chronicled, Payton said too much is being made of them.
"That's me," he said. "Pick somebody. Pick (special teams coordinator) Greg McMahon. Pick (cornerback) Corey White. Pick the game. That's just me being fired up. Pick (assistant head coach) Joe Vitt.
"It's more obvious when it's Rob because the camera is going to be on him more than it's going to be on Greg McMahon or a player. Yeah, I get upset when there's 12 guys on the field. That doesn't mean I'm looking for another defensive coach. I'm going to be more upset again. You're going to see more clips and you guys can write more reports. On Sundays, though. They'll come out on Sundays. They won't come out on Thursdays."
Payton also refuted a report – which later was recanted – that the Saints were interested in former Ravens running back Ray Rice.
"I think I would know if we were interested in signing any player," Payton said. "Those are the Sunday 'splash' reports. When you're in this business, on Sunday, you've got to have something that everyone reads, regardless of if it's truthful or not.
"Last Sunday, what was it? We were hiding a player from the Denver Broncos. That was another 'splash' report. We like our running back depth and if you'll do a little research, Khiry (Robinson) is coming back next week."
Robinson has missed the last several games with a forearm injury.
As for reports that the Saints are concerned with the arm strength of quarterback Drew Brees, and will be looking to pick a quarterback in the early rounds of the 2015 draft, Payton dismissed that notion without an answer.
"Is this where we're at?" he said following a game in which Brees tossed five touhcdown passes, including a 69-yarder. "Is anybody going to ask about the Steelers?"